The Dismissal of Judges

Judges represent an important central role in adjudicating disputes in a fair, unbiased manner by applying legal rules and play a vital role in controlling the exercise of power by the state. Judges may leave their position by the termination of an appointment: Dismissal due to breaching judicial disciplines, resignation of their own choice or suggestion by the Lord Chancellor for misbehaviour, removal due to disability by permanent infirmity from performance of duties and retirement at the age of 70 under the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993.

Superior judges, judges who sit above the High Court, have security of tenure that they cannot be dismissed by the Lord Chancellor or the Government. The Act of Settlement 1700 allows them to hold office while of good behaviour. The same provision is contained in the Senior Courts Act 1981 for High Court Judges and Lord Justices of Appeal. Likewise, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 contains provisions regarding the Justices of the Supreme Court. As a result, Superior Judges can only be removed by the monarch following a petition presented to him by both Houses of the Parliaments, which are the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The machinery for dismissal has been used only once when Sir Barrington, a High Court Judge was charged with appropriating court funds for his own use. The Lord Chief Justice can dismiss judges who are of ill-health and are incapable of carrying out work after consulting Lord Chancellor. This power was first introduced in the Administration of Justice Act 1973 and now contained in the Senior Courts Act 1981. This pressure has been put on unsatisfactory High Court Judges to resign. However, the same security of tenure does not apply to inferior judges.

Under the Courts Act 1971, circuit and district judges can be dismissed by the Lord Chancellor, if the Lord Chief Justice agrees for ‘inability’ and ‘misbehaviour’, which normally refers to the criminal conviction for dishonesty. The passing of the Act has led to the dismissal of two judges: Judge Campbell, a Circuit Judge who was sacked after being convicted of smuggling drugs into England. And the other was Judge Short, which was sacked for being rude towards solicitors. In dismissing a judge, Section 108 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 requires the Lord Chancellor to comply with procedures to regulate the dismissal of judges.

This means that their names and reasons for dismissal for removals must be made public. Dismissal is usually used as a last resort. There was a concern in the past that there wasn’t a formal disciplinary procedure for judges. Previously, there had been criticisms on judges’ conduct but nevertheless remained on the Bench. There was a lack of formal machinery for complaints. Pressure groups like JUSTICE had recommended the establishment of a formal disciplinary procedure in its report on the judiciary.

This was later enacted into Section 108 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, stating that the Lord Chief Justice may give formal advice, warning or reprimand for disciplinary purposes. The Office for Judicial Complaints was later set up in 2006 to handle complaints about Judges. Complaints that do not meet the criteria set out in the judicial discipline regulations will be dismissed by the office. If the complaint is not dismissed, the evidence will be considered by Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice and decide the disciplinary actions to be taken.

In certain complex cases, reference to a senior judge for judicial investigation may be made. A person can be suspended from the judicial office for any period when they are subject to criminal proceedings, conviction, criminal sentence and subject to disciplinary procedures. As well as the formal procedures discussed above, judges may be criticised in parliament, rebuked in the appellate courts and often censured in the press. There may be complaints from barristers, solicitors or litigants, which is either heard in court or private to the judge personally.